What is the ladder bet strategy?

A ladder betting strategy is a method of sports betting that sees you take advantage of the alternative lines offered by a sportsbook to create a system of higher payouts. In a ladder bet, instead of just making a single bet on a side, on a specific outcome, you bet that side in multiple ways across multiple different outcomes – and on lines that get progressively bigger in odds as they go up. 

A ladder bet involves making multiple bets but differs from a parlay bet in that it only involves betting on one single event. For example, if you are betting on an underdog team in the NFL, and want to implement a ladder betting strategy, you might start off by taking that team on the game's standard spread. The key with a ladder bet is that instead of just betting the spread at the regular line being offered, you would distribute your bankroll across a variety of outcomes, where the odds get progressively bigger. 

An example of a spread-based ladder bet is below

  • New York Giants +7.5 -110 (0.5 units) = $50.00 to win $45.00
  • New York Giants +3.5 +150 (0.25 units) $25.00 to win $37.50
  • New York Giants Money Line +200 (0.15 units) $15.00 to win $30.00
  • New York Giants -2.5 +350 (0.1 units)  = $10.00 to win $35.00
    • *1 unit = $100.00 

While the odds on offer for a bet like this will vary across different sportsbooks, the concept of how we would distribute our bankroll units across a ladder bet remains the same. In the above example, if the Giants were to lose by 7.0 points, our 0.5 unit bet would pay out $95.00 ($50.00 initial stake + $45.00 winnings) but the rest of our ladder bets would lose. That would leave us down just $5.00 and result in a very small loss. 

While we could have simply bet the regular spread (+7.5) with our entire $100.00 unit (and come out with a $90.00 profit), using a betting system like the ladder strategy gives you chances at a higher payout. 

If the Giants were to actually pull off the upset and win the game by three points, our entire ladder bet from above would pay out and we’d see a profit of $147.50, which is obviously significantly higher than our profit when we just bet just the standard spread. 

Ladder bets then serve a dual purpose for sports bettors. They become a way for us to get exposure to bigger alternative spreads with larger payouts but also allow us to bake in some security with exposure to other higher probability bets (with lower payouts) and practice solid bankroll management. The strategy is dependent on a number of factors we’ll hit on below (most specifically the actual offerings and odds available to us at various sportsbooks) but can be a good way of betting on a game or side you feel strongly about, one way or another.

You could also get creative with your ladder strategy if it's your first time betting. 

Using the example above, if you wanted to protect your ladder bet as a new bettor, you could place your first wager on the Giants -2.5 on BetMGM. That way, if the rest of your ladder hits and the -2.5 does not, you would get your first bet's stake amount (Giants -2.5) paid back in bonus bets (up to $1,000). Simply follow the offer below for more.

How to distribute units across a ladder bet?

Ultimately, how you distribute your bankroll across a ladder bet depends on how much variance you want to take on. Alternate lines with higher odds will offer us better payouts but also will have far less chance of actually succeeding. In this sense, we can increase our risk (and the chance of higher payouts) in a ladder bet by simply distributing more of our units across the outcomes with higher risk. 

In the above example, simply reducing our unit size to 0.40 units on the standard spread outcome (Giants +7.5), which had the worst odds, and putting 0.05 extra units on each of the bottom two rungs of our ladder bet (Giants ML +200 and Giants -2.5 +350), would lead us an extra $27.50 of profit if our entire ladder bet hits:

  • New York Giants +7.5 -110 (0.5 units) = $40.00 to win $45.00
  • New York Giants +3.5 +150 (0.25 units) $25.00 to win $37.50
  • New York Giants Money Line +200 (0.15 units) $20.00 to win $40.00
  • New York Giants -2.5 +350 (0.1 units)  = $15.00 to win $52.50
    • *1 unit = $100.00 

(a revised ladder bet, set to higher payouts, but with fewer units/security on our higher probability bet of Giants +7.5)

Since ladder bets serve a dual purpose – of giving us a shot at bigger outcomes and providing some security for a smaller return if our high variance bets don’t hit – how you distribute your units in a ladder bet should be strictly based on your own risk tolerance, and confidence. 

In our revised ladder bet from above, reducing the units on our Giants +7.5 play means that we’d see a smaller return (0.85 unit vs. 0.95 unit) if only that portion of the bet hit – but we would obviously get a bigger payout than before if all the rungs on our ladder paid out. In the end, much like in larger field tournaments in poker or daily fantasy sports, ladder bets are mainly about playing for the upside. Ultimately, the more confident you are in a side or prop, the more you should be weighting your units towards the upside plays with bigger odds in a ladder bet – and worrying less about the return you’ll get back if only the lower portion hits. 

What are the different types of ladder bets?

Ladder bets can ultimately be implemented in any different type of sport or prop where a sportsbook is offering alternate lines on a specific outcome. We’ll go over the most general examples of where and how to implement a ladder bet below. 

Against the spread and money line ladder bets

As we showed above, against the spread ladder bets work hand-in-hand with the money line. Generally, when we want to start a ladder bet for a particular side in a game, we’d start with the traditional spread on offer. 

DraftKings Sportsbook

In the above example, if we wanted to create a ladder bet around the Steelers, we’d start by putting a certain portion of units on Pittsburgh +6.5.  That would act as the first ladder in your rung and the bet with the most likelihood of hitting. While each sports bettor will have their own preference in how they weigh their ladder (based on the situation and bankroll), this bet would also often be the one you would be proportioning out the largest unit size on.

Our next objective would be to use the alternative spreads to look for key numbers. Since most football games tend to end in winning margins or 3.0 or 7.0 points, going down to Pittsburgh +3.5 for the next rung of our ladder would be most efficient. Further, since there are no real key numbers between +3.5 and zero, our third rung could simply be Pittsburgh Money Line. 

If you did want to make this bet with four or more stages it would also be important to keep looking for key numbers. Betting Pittsburgh at -2.5 or even -6.5 would be good ways to complete this ladder. 

A proposed five-step ladder bet using alternative lines, against the spread odds and Money Line is below.

  • Pittsburgh +6.5 -110
  • Pittsburgh +3.5 +150
  • Pittsburgh Money Line +250
  • Pittsburgh -2.5 +350
  • Pittsburgh -6.5 +550

One of the main factors you need to look for when making ladder bets when using ATS and Money Line odds, is availability. Bookmakers that offer good prices, but also a variety of lines at all different spread points, will be the most useful in creating successful ladder bets. Much like teaser bets, where we are parlaying alternate lines from different games, hitting on key numbers is an important facet in making successful ladder bets in football and the NFL. Getting access to good alternative spread odds will be a major factor in experiencing long-term success in any ladder betting strategy. 

Players props ladder bets

One other popular field in which to implement ladder-style bets is player props. Many Bookmakers now offer a huge variety of player props in the larger sports, and many offer alternate lines in those fields as well. Basketball is one of the most popular sports for ladder bets as we can often get alternate lines on things like a player’s three-point success rate. 

  • Jayson Tatum over 2.5 threes +100
  • Jayson Tatum over 3.5 threes +300
  • Jayson Tatum over 4.5 threes +750

The above is just an example of what the alternate lines for a player prop like three-pointers made could look like. Obviously, in the above example, you’d need to be ultra bullish to be betting Tatum to go over his maximum line of 4.5 threes. However, if you did think he was in line for a potential monster night–whether due to recent form, opponent, or a combination of both– then using a ladder strategy could give you some exposure to those bigger odds (+750 at over 4.5 three’s) with some reduced risk as well. 

DJ Moore

Aug 27, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (2) and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Miles Killebrew (28) during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

For NFL and other sports like NHL, you can also often get decent alternative odds in fields like touchdowns and goals scored. Betting a player to score one, two, or three touchdowns is another option/field where a ladder betting system can be implemented. Most sportsbooks offer odds on players to score a TD, but also two or three TD props, as well. However, just be wary that not all TD odds are built the same. Some sportsbooks will offer much different odds on TD scorers so make sure you shop around (e.g. do some line shopping) before committing to your bet. 

In the NFL, looking at props like passing, receiving, or rushing yardage will often be a much better field to look at when making player-prop-based ladder bets. Not every sportsbook will offer alternative lines on these props, but ones that do should be targeted specifically for this purpose. 

Frequently asked questions

What types of bettors should implement the ladder strategy

Bettors with access to solid sportsbooks that offer alternate lines on a variety of different games will have the best reason to consider a ladder betting strategy. The more sportsbooks you have access to means the better selection and quality of betting prices available to you as well. 

What types of bettors is the ladder strategy good for?

The ladder strategy can be implemented by any kind of bettor, assuming they have access to a wide variety of alternate lines. Beginners who are looking for bigger payouts over a small sample size may find the format more attractive than those who like to grind out smaller profits by betting on a variety of ATS lines every week. 

When is it best to implement a ladder betting strategy?

The ladder strategy is best used by bettors when they are uber-confident that either a line in a specific game is way off, or that a specific side is going to vastly outperform their current projection. 

For example, If you looked at the line in a regular-season NFL game and figured the team who sits at +3.5 in the opening odds should actually be the favorite, that would likely be a good time to create a ladder bet, as it would give you exposure to a variety of outright win outcomes for your side, but still maintain a small safety net, and better bankroll management, by portioning out units to the standard +3.5 line as well. 

How do you calculate what a good ladder bet is?

The purpose of ladder bets is to give you a chance at some higher profits while maintaining some security of a return (even if it’s less than breakeven). A solid ladder bet that wins on all of its rungs will give creators a payout that’s at least 25% higher than if you had just bet your entire unit on the regular spread of a game. Conversely, solid ladder bets also ensure some kind of return (often 50% of your wager or more) if only the bottom rung of your ladder bet hits. 

Those numbers are fluid though. Ladder bets are ultimately all about risk tolerance and can and should be adjusted based on preference and the types of lines available. 

Geoff Ulrich
Geoff Ulrich
Geoff Ulrich is a writer and content provider who works in the daily fantasy and gambling space for DraftKings and other operators. He loves the quest of finding the next batch of underrated breakout players for his season long and best ball teams and then proudly watching them become mainstream stars. An inquisitive person by nature, you can often find him on twitter (@thefantasygrind) tilting his latest bet or going over his favorite plays for the upcoming NFL or Golf slate.